Storing Your Breastmilk
Often, it seems like you’ve just gotten the hang of breastfeeding when it’s time to return to work. And sometimes, even if you don’t work away from the house, you just need to get out and take a break sometimes. That’s how mommies stay sane! It really does take a village to raise a child, and it’s totally fine to hand over child care responsibilities to trustworthy family and friends. Many mothers worry about storing breast milk for when they’re away, but it’s easy and safe to do. What’s really cool is that it has antibacterial properties that help preserve it, so it’s safe to store and give it to your baby later on. It helps to remember that breast milk is food, and we know for sure that food will keep for periods of time before we eat it. All you have to do is familiarize yourself with the healthy way to store milk.
How can I make sure that my milk is stored safely?
The first rule of thumb is that it’s always better to store a little less milk than store too much. If you leave too much in storage, you might end up wasting some of it. You can help decrease the chances of wasting milk by storing milk in 2-4oz containers. If you’re just going to be out for a few hours and you pump right before you leave, it’s okay to leave your milk out at room temperature. Make sure to cover the milk. Putting a moist, cool towel over the container can help keep it cooler. Milk at room temperature can last for 4-6 hours.
Ideally, you’ll have access to a refrigerator and can chill it right away. The refrigerator should be less than 39° F.
Store the milk in the back of the fridge rather than in the door, as the door tends to have a higher temperature than the body of the fridge. Your milk is safe to feed to your baby for up to eight days.
To store milk for up to two weeks, you can put it in a freezer (make sure it’s 5° or less) that’s a compartment of the fridge. You can store it for 3-6 months if you put it in a separate compartment of the freezer with doors. And (we’re pretty pumped about this one!) you can safely store milk for up to 12 months in a deep freezer (-4° F). When you put it in the freezer, place it in the back because the temperature is more consistent in this part of the freezer.
What kind of containers should I used to store my milk?
So, you know how long you can store your milk in various places, but what kind of container should you put it in? It’s best to use plastic or glass containers with tight-sealing lids. Always thoroughly clean and dry the containers before using them, and also make sure to wash your hands. Label your bags with the date on which you pumped your milk, which is easy to do with handy sticker labels. Steer clear of containers with the chemical bisphenol A, which is easy to identify, as containers with this chemical will have a 3 or 7 on them. Containers with the safer chemical, polypropylene are fine to use. They’ll have either “PP” printed on them or the number 5.
Use bags designed for storing breast milk rather than any old bag, as run of the mill bags may burst open as they freeze. Leave about 2.5cm of space at the top of the milk, because the milk will expand as it freezes.
This might sound intimidating, but it’s actually really simple, and the more you do it, the easier it will become. There are lots of safe containers out there. It’s easy to get the hang of the safe and unsafe symbols.
When it’s time to thaw the milk, move it to the fridge or put it in a container with warm water. Avoid using a microwave to heat up the milk. Once you’ve reheated it, don’t put it back in the fridge or freezer to use later.
How can I store milk at work?
It might seem a little weird to store milk at work. Remember that what you’re doing is very normal and you’re helping your baby be as healthy as possible while maintaining your independence as you leave the house to work. Really, you don’t owe anyone explanations for storing your milk in the freezer. If you want to be discrete, you can put the container of milk in a canvas bag and label the bag with your name. For all your coworkers know, it could be any sort of food you want to save for later. If you feel uncomfortable leaving your milk in a communal fridge, you can bring an insulated cooler bag and tuck it under your desk. Keep all sides of the container in contact with ice packs and sustain a temperature 39°F or less.
It’s important to choose a caregiver with whom you have a positive relationship. Confirm that he or she has taken the time to learn the safety measures that need to be followed to store and thaw milk properly. Your caregiver might be surprised that the milk doesn’t look like cow’s milk, so make it clear that it’s not abnormal for stored breastmilk to be slightly brown, green, or blue in color. Leave links to informational websites or educational pamphlets so your caregiver has helpful resources.
You’ve Got This
You’re going to do great. It’s going to do wonders for your mental health to get out and about for some “you” time. Ask for support from mothers who have experience with storing milk, if you can. We’re in love with La Leche League International; you can learn so much about storing breast milk from this fabulous breast feeding guide. Have fun embracing your independence while knowing that your baby is still drinking your nutrition-packed milk.